Families have heard the horrific conditions under which 143 mental health patients died in various NGOs after being moved from Life Esidimeni hospital, which former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu repeatedly claimed yesterday she was not aware of at the time.
In the second day of cross-examination in the arbitration hearings into the deaths, Mahlangu was grilled over why she failed to act on several warnings she was given by organisations in the mental health sector, and her own senior managers, of the risks posed by the marathon project.
Organisations including the SA Depression and Anxiety Group, Section 27 and the SA Society of Psychiatrists repeatedly warned the department of risks posed to 1 700 patients, the arbitration heard.
After her several attempts to put the blame on senior management, a visibly exasperated presiding officer, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke asked: “Why didn’t you take the necessary precautions?
Why didn’t you make sure NGOs were capacitated … that they had money, food, clothing, they had security and that men were not mixed with women users?” She told Moseneke she was given no reason to doubt the transfers would be in order.
This was despite the fact that concerns raised by Section 27 culminated in a failed bid to interdict her from moving adult patients to Takalani Home, where 38 patients eventually died by mid-2016.
Mahlangu said she was unaware the project had such risks, saying had the then head of department, Dr Barney Selebano, given her “correct information”, she wouldn’t have given the goahead.
Selebano, in his testimony last year, said he was scared of Mahlangu and went ahead with the project on her instruction.
“At no stage was I made aware that the HOD was afraid of me and that he had raised concerns about moving patients with the premier,” she argued yesterday.
In her cross-examination, council for Section 27, Adila Hassan, recounted details of starving patients, a typhoid outbreak and reports of rape, among other harrowing conditions patients were subjected to under Mahlangu’s watch, asking her whether she was aware of them and why she did not act on them at the time.
Mahlangu contended that where she was made aware by her senior managers, she tried her best to intervene; and was largely led to believe the process was going smoothly. Among other reasons, the termination in 2015 was a cost-cutting exercise, according to Mahlangu.
She said the termination was prompted by concerns raised by the auditor-general that the contract was among several not following proper procurement processes as it was repeatedly renewed without going to tender.
Moseneke asked Mahlangu why she did not consider putting the contract out to tender and perhaps awarding it to a better service provider.
He additionally asked why the department resorted to moving patients, rather than considering alternatives. Mahlangu argued that she relied fully on senior management in the process.
- Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu has raised concerns during the Life Esidimeni arbitration, saying she was being harassed and followed.
- She told presiding officer Dikgang Moseneke yesterday that she had alerted community safety MEC Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane that crime intelligence officers approached her at OR Tambo International Airport when she returned from overseas this month and subjected her to an unusual passport check.
- She added that she saw a drone hovering over her house on Tuesday.
- “ I don’t know why I am being harassed,” she said.
- Moseneke indicated that the matter would be looked into.